________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 7 . . . . October 14, 2011


True Blue.

Deborah Ellis.
Toronto, ON: Pajama Press, 2011.
229 pp., pbk., $14.95.
ISBN 978-0-9869495-0-0.

Subject Headings:
Friendship-Juvenile fiction.
Peer pressure in adolescence-Juvenile fiction.
Conduct of life-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Ann Ketcheson.

*** /4



I looked around. It was obvious that people knew who we were. When I made eye contact, they looked away, staring down at their walnut crullers or giving their coffee another stir. “Casey’s a rather remarkable young woman,” Mela said, drawing my attention back to her.

“Yes, she is,” I agreed. “Very smart, too.”

“She has an uncanny capacity for loyalty,” Mela continued, as if I hadn’t spoken. “Uncanny, especially in a world where people have more loyalty to brands of toothpaste or blue jeans than they have to ideas. Or to friends.”

I pretended to be absorbed in spooning hot chocolate over the little hill of phony whipping cream. I felt myself growing cold. A drop of sweat ran from under my arm down my side.

“For example, in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary, she still insists on referring to you as her best friend.”

If I don’t look up, I thought, she’ll go away.

“She says that you had nothing to do with her letter appearing in the newspaper.”

“I didn’t!” I said, perhaps a little too forcefully. My conscience should have been clear on that point but it wasn’t. And I could tell from the look on Mela’s face that she didn’t believe me.

I had nothing to say to that, so I said nothing.

“Tell me, Jude, has Casey done you some monumental wrong? Has she injured you in some way? Are you angry at some crime she’s committed against you?”

An image came into my head – a collage of images, really – of Casey with her head near the ground, staring at an anthill or watching a hornet walk across her hand, her whole attention absorbed. Nothing left for me.

“No,” I said. “Of course not.”

“Has she disappointed you? Betrayed you?”

I shook my head. “She’s my best friend.”

“Friendships can be complicated,” Mela said. “They shouldn’t be. When two people like each other, everything should be easy. But humans are good at making things hard.”

Stephanie is the camp kid that counsellors dread. She hides when activities are about to start and delights in playing mean jokes on both her fellow campers and the counsellors in charge of the cabin. But, just as camp is ending, Stephanie disappears again and later, when Stephanie’s body is found stuffed in a hollow tree, Casey, her camp counsellor, is arrested for murder. The second counsellor, Jess, tries to convince authorities that, despite the overwhelming evidence against Casey, they’re making a mistake. Remaining a “true blue friend” becomes more and more difficult as media and peer pressure begin to take their toll on Jess. Will she be able to find the courage she needs to remain loyal to her best friend?

      Deborah Ellis has won awards for her young adult fiction set in developing countries so True Blue is a change of setting, but Ellis retains her ability to focus on character and relationships which are larger than their surroundings. Jess is the narrator and the protagonist. At times, she seems committed to helping her long-time friend through these tough times, and one feels that she truly cares a great deal about Casey, but the commitments seem to end as nothing more than totally ludicrous ideas, such as breaking Casey out of jail. When it comes to action, Jess cannot even bring herself to write a letter to her friend. When the in-crowd at school unexpectedly invites Jess to join them, she is overjoyed and enthusiastically tells them details of her friendship with Casey. In other words, she plays into their hands and provides information she later sees in the local paper and on the Internet and then is abruptly dropped by her new “friends.” Readers may not like Jess and are unlikely to sympathize with her actions and lack of loyalty to her friend, but Ellis seems more interested in underscoring how difficult it can be to maintain friendships when outside events and peer pressure begin to erode relationships.

      Jess narrates throughout the novel. The book is set within ‘bookends’ which show that Jess, five months after the events have taken place, has left town, once again shirking her responsibilities both to her friend Casey and to her own family. Occasionally within the book, there are excerpts from Jess’s journals, past and present, which tell readers about her long-standing friendship with Casey as well as the event at camp prior to Stephanie’s disappearance. Readers hear about Casey only through Jess and second-hand reports from her teachers and other students. The only time Casey’s character narrates in the first person is a handful of letters written from jail while she awaits trial.

     We want Jess to be less self-centered and self-absorbed and to do the right thing. She does not. Casey, on the other hand, seems too good to be true. Could she have committed such a terrible crime during some uncharacteristic fit of frustration? Ellis has made the characters rather too black and white. The denouement of the story is unsatisfying as a deus ex machina event quickly and easily solves the murder mystery around which the book revolves.

     Though the characters seem somewhat stereotyped and the ending simplistic, Ellis has done a first-rate job of putting friendship under a literary microscope. The murder mystery is solved, but the friendship is not rekindled. Neither Jess nor Casey will “live happily ever after” unless, at some future point, they are able to repair Jess’s mistakes and regain what has been lost.


Ann Ketcheson is a retired high school teacher-librarian and teacher of English and French who lives in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.